Haslam administration postpones Fall Creek Falls State Park's deadline for would-be hospitality services outsourcing

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam talks about the commitment the state has to Volkswagen Wednesday outside the Tennessee Department of Transportation Management Center in Chattanooga. Tennessee General Assembly House Speaker Gerald McCormick listens, back right. The governor had just come from visiting with workers inside the plant Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 7, 2015.

NASHVILLE - The Haslam administration has abruptly postponed a Thursday deadline for companies interested in running Fall Creek Falls State Park responding to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's a Request for Proposal.

A timeline on the Department of General Services' website now says "postpone."

Eric Ward Department of Environment and Conservation said today in response to a Times Free Press that "the RFP has been postponed to incorporate amended process language which will be made available soon."

It was not known how long the proposal would be postponed or what the specific issues leading to it are.

There was no immediate elaboration but the administration's process has been under fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association as well as several lawmakers who have raised questions not only on that issue but the effort to privatize hospitality services at the park, which straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe counties in a remote area of the Upper Cumberland Plateau.

TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said today that the "website indicates the RFP has been delayed. I have not had any communication with the department about the reasons for the delay."

"We can only assume because concerns have been brought up by many legislators - Sen. Bowling has been in the forefront with us as has Sen. Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons. As you know we sought an AG's opinion which is still forthcoming."

The TSEA has blasted the plan and questioned the legal process used. Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, in whose district the park sits, has asked for a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General.

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, have criticized the outsourcing proposal as well and held public hearings at both Fall Creek Falls State Park and other parks believed to be future possibilities for outsourcing.

Meanwhile, the American Institute of Architects-Tennessee have questioned aspects of the proposal which includes providing $22 million in state money to whatever private operator is selected to tear down the park's existing inn and rebuild it.

The proposal would allow the company to who would then select their own architect, engineer and contractors. Final approval would still come before the State Building Commission process, which closely monitors state expenditures of public funds for government buildings.

But critics say it would only come at the end with commissioner members being put in a
position where it would be difficult to question.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who is a member of the commission, told the Times Free Press this week that she is seeking answers about the process.